‘They dropped the cake from the top of the stairs’: wedding disasters – and insiders’ tips on how to avoid them

<span>Illustration: Ian McKinnell/The Guardian</span>
Illustration: Ian McKinnell/The Guardian

The lost tooth

Kristian Leven, photographer
I was capturing a shot of the groom before the ceremony, tying some ribbon to the wedding car, when all of a sudden he popped up looking concerned. He had been trying to cut the ribbon with his teeth, and his capped front tooth had fallen off. The groomsmen managed to find the tooth and a dentist who could reattach it – not easy on a Saturday. The groom and I raced there. He was super nervous, looking at his watch the whole time. It took the dentist five minutes to do it, and he didn’t charge! The groom did the big reveal about the tooth during his speech. The bride’s face was a picture!

Do go “unplugged”, asking guests not to take photos. It means the bride and groom get to see faces rather than phones when they’re walking down the aisle.

Don’t share a Pinterest board with your photographer of wedding photos you like. If you’ve chosen one, you should be confident in their style.

The dropped cake

Corduroy Moustache, band
It was the most lavish wedding we’ve ever played at. We were soundchecking when we heard the most humongous crash. One of the staff had dropped the four-tier wedding cake from the top of the stairs – an almost 10-metre drop. There were five or six people cleaning frantically. Miraculously, a new, massive, ornate wedding cake appeared within the hour.

Do choose music for the drinks reception that will fit nicely in the background: it needs to create an ambience without being a main focal point.

Don’t play songs about cheating or breakups – it creates bad vibes!

The nauseous bride

Caroline Siân Bishop, wedding planner
At the drinks reception, the bride started to feel ill, and went and sat down. We assumed that it was nerves. I told the caterers to hold off with the meal. We wanted to get her to a state where she was able to walk into the dining room with her husband. After a few minutes, she ran to the loo and started being sick. I went with her and held back her hair. We eventually had to go ahead with the dinner. The bride couldn’t face any food. She managed to listen to the speeches, but then promptly returned to the toilet. The next day, she realised it wasn’t nerves at all: she was pregnant!

Do budget for bad weather: lots of couples have outdoor weddings with no backup plan.

Don’t procrastinate. Suppliers get booked up years in advance, and leaving it to the last minute will only cause extra stress.

I suddenly saw a huge herd of cows coming towards the open marquee

The bovine invasion

Jessie Westwood, wedding planner
We had just finished setting up the marquee for a couple who were having their wedding in a field. Everything looked beautiful. I went to check that the bride was on time, and suddenly saw this huge herd of cows coming down the lane towards the open marquee, their farmer nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know what to do, so just pretended to be a farmer. I walked towards the cows doing my best noisy farmer impression and clapping at them. To my surprise, it worked: they started to turn back!

Do give your suppliers an upper budget limit and ask what they can do within that, rather than getting individual costing for things.

Don’t go for cost over value. It’s better to have an experienced planner for the month of the wedding than an inexperienced one assisting you for a year.

The ruined dress

Tanya Fenton, florist
The bride had the “genius” idea of using her very old steamer on her bridal gown and it left a big, rancid, yellow limescale stain right on its front. There was a lot of crying! One of the makeup artists and I turned ourselves into a launderette service with some hotel soap, a hairdryer and a towel from my florist’s kit meant for drying the bouquet. After 25 minutes, we’d got most of the stain out. There was still a circle where the watermarks were, which the photographer had to edit out of every photo.

Do ask your wedding dress shop to steam the dress and then just hang it up the night before.

Don’t choose your suppliers on price alone. It’s important to meet them beforehand and find someone you have a rapport with.

The tumbling photographer

Rob Dodsworth, photographer
During the vows, I went into a side aisle to take a nice shot. I took a quick couple of steps forward to get a better view and my foot hit a small step. It tripped me up and sent me colliding into a stack of chairs piled high. The stack came down with a huge crash. I lay on the floor wishing I was dead. The guests nearest to me were in hysterics, but the ceremony seemed otherwise unaffected. Afterwards, I apologised to the vicar and congratulated him for keeping the show on the road. He said: “One of us had to be the professional.” Weirdly, the bride and groom were so in the moment that they hadn’t noticed. But for the rest of day, the guests kept shouting at me: “Mind that step!”

Do meet your photographer in person or on Zoom before the wedding, to make sure you gel with them.

Don’t get bent out of shape reading about all the things you should do for your wedding – do what feels right for you.

The doomed disco

DJ Lenny, wedding DJ
I was hired for a wedding whose afterparty had to start at 7pm and end at 10pm because of sound restrictions. The meal took forever – the bride had had a few drinks and her speech lasted over an hour. It included thanking almost every guest (about 50 people) individually. Guests were looking at each other, conscious of the time. In the end, I was only able to play three songs: the first dance, a dancing number and the leaving song.

Do ask the guests what songs they love to dance to, so you can get everyone on the dance floor.

Don’t just give your DJ a genre; send some song examples as well – a DJ might have a very different idea of your chosen style.

The doggy disaster

Emma Cartlich, wedding dog chaperone
The bride and groom wanted to pretend that the best man had lost the rings, and then have their dog appear with them. As planned, when the registrar asked the best man – who was in on the prank – for the rings, he started to say: “Oh my God, I’ve left the rings at home.” He then turned to the father of the bride, and said: “Have you had a drink? Can you drive to get the rings?”

The reaction was bigger than expected. The father of the bride panicked, thinking the best man had ruined his daughter’s wedding, and the guests started panicking, too. People were taking off their own rings and offering them to the bride and groom. Then the groom clicked his finger, and we let their dog run in with the rings attached to his collar. People were laughing, crying … the emotion was incredible.

Do get your dog to meet the chaperone before the wedding at least once, ideally twice, so they can get familiar with each other.

Don’t involve your dog in your wedding if it doesn’t have the temperament to cope with all the attention.

The nutty caterer

Dave Mills, caterer at Vegan Junkies
I had a last-minute panic at a wedding when I realised that half the guests were French, spoke little to no English, and that one of our canapés, a paté bruschetta, contained walnuts. With five minutes until service, I asked Google Translate for help. It told me “ceux-qui contient des noix” is French for “these contain nuts”. I took sole charge of that canapé, and immediately encountered the father of the bride. “Ceux-qui contient des noix!” I said as he tried to take a canapé. “Pardon?” he replied. My confidence was shattered but I repeated, “Ceux-qui contient des noix!”

Now the whole group was exchanging confused looks and I panicked and started repeating, “Des noix, des noix!” And the group all repeated, “Des noix, des noix” to each other, but were still confused. Just as I was about to run off, the bride appeared like magic, and was able to translate. I felt idiotic. For the rest of the wedding, the bride’s father referred to me as “Des noix, des noix!”. I am, it seems, just “nuts”.

Do attend a tasting. You have to have confidence in the menu you choose.

Don’t forget to check out your venue’s kitchen (or lack of). You may need to hire a catering tent or oven.

The van goes up in flames

Lauren Goodman, wedding planner
We once had the brakes on a caterer’s pizza van go up in flames en route to the venue. We were able to find someone on site to rescue the team and retrieve produce while the caterers waited for help. But then, on the way out of the venue, the team member driving to the pizza van crashed her car into a ditch. Thank God she was OK, but getting the car out of the ditch was challenging, to say the least.

Do take time out of the day to really appreciate it. I always recommend my couples pick a few occasions to go off on their own for some quality time.

Don’t go wild on beauty treatments too close to the wedding; keep to your normal routine.

Related: The new wedding etiquette: who pays, what’s in, and why you should start a divorce fund

The peril of traditions

Carl Rushe, DJ
I was DJing at a wedding where the bride had a lot of Polish relatives. The tradition is that after each speech, all the family (including the bride) do a shot. There were six or seven speeches. I’d gone to set up and was told no one could find the bride. It turned out she’d gone upstairs and passed out on the bed. She made it down two hours later, and ended up having her first dance looking a little worse for wear.

Do have a “do not play” playlist for your DJ – it’s just as important as a regular playlist.

Don’t start the evening reception too early: about 7.30-8pm is the optimum time for a first dance.